November 13th, 2004

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When Malcolm Reed Went Back to School

I'm back in town, ready to dive into my fan fiction retrospective once again. Since I'm going through my recommendations in no order whatsoever, I'll pick up with a review from a most recent fandom, Enterprise.

I watch Enterprise because it is Star Trek. It is not, I will admit, Deep Space Nine or the first three seasons of Voyager, but it does have its promising moments, its intriguing characters, and its plot twists. Perhaps most interestingly, the series in the past year began to explore some profoundly grey areas as Captain Archer allowed ends to justify means during the Xindi War. I only wish that the series followed through with its most challenging premises with the same insightful and unflinching eye that author bat400 possesses. I would be one happy Trekkie -- and I would put Enterprise up against the finest of Trek in any of its incarnations -- if I could see bat400's version of Enterprise each week. As it is, I now glimpse the promise of her Malcolm Reed, Trip Tucker, T'Pol, and Jonathan Archer in the episodes, and I am a far more faithful viewer because of this.

Title: "Graduation"
Author: bat400
Format: novella
Universe: Star Trek: Enterprise
Rating: R
Warning: Character deaths, violence, alternate universe for fourth season (canon through third season)
Availability: "Graduation"

Bat400's work is careful, absorbing, detailed, and dedicated to the proposition that actions and ideas have consequences. Among her short stories, I find it difficult to decide which I like best: the haunting "Nightmares of the Expanse," an examination of the loose ends that keep the crewmembers up at night, "Between Sunset and Darkness," a look at the way the world ends from an altogether unique point of view, or "Long Time Gone," a deeply disturbing reflection on how the Temporal Cold War was won. Bat400 doesn't let Starfleet, the characters, or the readers off easily when she follows the ripple effects of actions through to the most distant shore; it's the fact that she takes the premises and the crewmembers so seriously that makes her critiques -- and her praise, when it comes -- so very powerful.

Of bat400's works to date, though, the novella "Graduation" should earn special attention. Framed around a graduation ceremony at Starfleet's Tucker-Reed School for Tactical and Security Studies roughly half a century after the events depicted in the series, the tale uses switches between contemporary scenes and flashback sequences to tell the story of the end of the Xindi War and what it cost the crew of Enterprise. Each character, from regulars such as Dr. Phlox and Hoshi Sato to recurring guests such as Kov and Major Hayes, has his or her moment; the chief action, however, revolves around a wounded Malcolm Reed's attempts, with the help of T'Pol, both to preserve the memory of the fallen Trip Tucker and to make certain future generations will not make the same mistakes as those made by Jonathan Archer.

Bat400 spotlights the characters of Malcolm Reed and T'Pol, creating a complex and convincing portrait of how they have aged and become allies as they mourn Tucker and struggle through their own physical and emotional frailties. One of bat400's greatest strengths is creating tales that can be read either as gen or slash fiction, and this novella is a perfect case in point. Her "Commandant" Malcolm Reed, an aged survivor and educational reformer, is flawed and yet sympathetic, even endearing, and entirely believable. Gentle ironies abound: Malcolm's life, once a study in isolation, comes to revolve around friends and the idea of the *personal* over the public; he and T'Pol, the two most reserved souls from Enterprise, begin to correspond about poetry and the nature of emotions as Reed fights his political battles to make his agenda reality and T'Pol declines in the grip of her disease. Sequences about the crew's war experiences and their aftermaths are unflinching and troubling, as they should be. The walking wounded, such as Hayes with his childlike mind and Hoshi with her forced infertility, serve as a background for repeated revisitations of the themes of family, prejudice, and loyalty.

As carefully as bat400 considers Reed and T'Pol, she also scrutinizes the character of Captain Jonathan Archer. One of the recurring ideas of the piece is that the Xindi War was more complicated than both sides seemed to think, which leaves people like Malcolm Reed -- and most certainly left Trip Tucker -- in the middle, directly in harm's way. Bat400 shows the follies of narrow and simplistic views of war, and then reveals the cost of such follies in human life. Perhaps most striking is the heartbreaking realization during the scenes in which Malcolm tries to pitch his new curriculum to Archer that Archer doesn't "get it," doesn't understand how the decisions he made (including ignoring the advice from his officers) had morally difficult and ultimately deadly repercussions for those who served him. In essence, bat400 walks through the door the writers of Enterprise opened, examines canon Archer carefully, and delivers a poignant indictment of him and the kind of worldview he exemplifies. Ultimately Archer, by following his orders all too well and winning the war at all costs, becomes the corpse at Starfleet's wedding. Bat400 paints this as a tragedy, first because Archer is so oblivious to his own pattern of behavior, his assumptions, and his blind spots, and second because Archer's intentions are not and never were evil, which makes it all the worse that he becomes something of a blunder of a leader. And it's quite telling that, once he does catch on (in part if not in full) about what he's done -- or at least what others hold him accountable for -- he disappears from the narrative, and even from the contemporary conversation, becoming a hushed topic among the younger characters, an embarrassment.

In the end, the stories of Trip's meaningless death and Reed's meaningful life hold Starfleet and the crewmembers of Enterprise accountable for past actions, offering thoughtful commentary on our own world situation in the process. Bat400's novella is a classic example of how fan fiction can create a world that is more real, more compelling, and more relevant than the text that inspired it, and can make the reader fall in love with its source series for the first time -- or all over again.


“But if a commander has not taken advantage of every means available to him or to her; if command fails to prepare for the decisions of each mission by research, consideration, and advice of their specialists; then there is nothing to prevent needless sacrifice but sheer luck and coincidence.

“Needless sacrifice is a fundamental betrayal of friendship. There is nothing romantic or praiseworthy or valiant to the survivors of such a betrayal. There is only waste.”

Reed stopped speaking. He slowly turned and returned to his seat. As he did, he had an unnerving memory of when he had turned, nearly a half century earlier, and had seen Jonathan Archer looking back at him. Finally, on that day, forty-four years ago, Archer had understood him at last.

On that day Reed had returned to his seat as an uncertain applause had begun. Then, as the graduates had been called, Jonathan Archer had spoken to him under the cover of the names being read out and said, “You never have forgiven me.”

Malcolm Reed had turned to him and said, “No, sir, I never have.”

Postscript: For another interesting, if less comprehensive, look at Malcolm Reed, I recommend a seven-piece story that is equally as bloody (and equally critical of certain command decisions), the 2003 "Understood" series by Nijijin at EntSTCommunity: The Warp 5 Complex.